WKU and Anthem Medicaid create scholarship program to improve health equity in rural Kentucky

By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky

Western Kentucky University (WKU) and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid in Kentucky today announced an endowed scholarship to expand the number of frontline workers in the western region of the state, increase access to care and improve health equity in Kentucky’s rural areas. The Anthem Medicaid Rural Medicine Scholarship will support up to four students at WKU through a $100,000 gift from Anthem Medicaid that will serve students for years to come.

According to the Kentucky Hospital Association’s 2022 Workforce Survey, Kentucky hospitals reported more than 13,000 vacancies across 13 professional groups in 2021. Nursing topped the list with 22% of all nursing positions unfilled, and another 14% of nurses near retirement. Shortages such as this, coupled with the state’s high prevalence of multiple chronic conditions, reinforce the need to expand the number of health care professionals in the Commonwealth.

“What an exciting day for health care in western Kentucky,” said WKU President Timothy C. Caboni. “We are thrilled to partner with Anthem Medicaid to create this much-needed opportunity for our students. This gift helps us achieve our mission of preparing health services professionals with an inclusive, community-engaged and interdisciplinary academic experience.”

Communities across Kentucky are still reeling from recent disasters that have devastated the Commonwealth. Areas already lacking quality health care are facing more struggles as facilities rebuild, families heal, and individuals identify new health care options. This scholarship will help to build and maintain a robust network of highly skilled healthcare providers in some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable communities.

“Anthem recognizes the importance of investing in the future health care workforce to ensure that communities across Kentucky have access to essential health services and reducing health inequities,” said Leon Lamoreaux, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid President in Kentucky. “We are proud to work alongside Western Kentucky University to improve lives and communities in every area of the state and ensure institutions on the front lines of health care education and training, especially for rural and underserved communities of greatest need, are well supported.”

The Anthem Medicaid Rural Medicine Scholarship requires applicants to be a full-time student at WKU, majoring in a health care-related field, including nursing, pre-medicine or pre-dentistry. The recipients must plan to work in western Kentucky for at least three years after graduating, helping provide more quality care in areas that need it most.

Abbey Mills, a senior from Bowling Green, Ky., who is majoring in Biology, is one of two inaugural recipients of the scholarship. She plans to stay in Bowling Green following graduation to serve alongside the providers and people she’s come to know.

“I am very grateful to receive this scholarship and serve in the community I call home,” Mills said. “I’m hoping with the network I’ve created, that people will see me as a familiar face, making them feel even more comfortable to come to me for their future health care needs.”

The second scholarship recipient is Sarah Ela Saysanavong, a 2014 WKU alumna who was recently admitted into WKU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She says she would not have been able to pursue a second degree without the support of scholarship opportunities like this one.

“I’m honored to receive the first-ever Anthem Medicaid Rural Medicine Scholarship,” said Saysanavong. “I’ve always wanted to be in a field that allows me to improve the quality of care for patients and promote proactivity in health care, and this scholarship makes that even more of a reality. I can’t thank WKU and Anthem Medicaid enough for their trust and confidence in the next generation.”

Western Kentucky lawmakers and WKU alumni State Representative Michael Meredith (R-KY) and State Senator David Givens (R-KY), congratulated the two students and celebrated the new scholarship opportunity.

“As a proud Hilltopper alum, I’m excited by this groundbreaking partnership between Anthem Medicaid and Western Kentucky University,” said Sen. Givens. “Our state is suffering from a much bigger health care shortage, and this is but one innovative solution to help people get the care they need in western Kentucky.”

Today’s announcement builds on Anthem Medicaid’s recent partnerships with several other institutions across the Commonwealth. In the last year, Anthem Medicaid has pledged more than half-a-million dollars to invest in the future of education and access to health care throughout the Commonwealth.

“Our region has been through so much over the last year,” said Rep. Meredith. “And this is just another example of the outpouring of support our friends and neighbors have shown. It’s heartwarming to know partners like Anthem Medicaid and WKU are looking for ways to not only solve the current problem plaguing our state but looking for ways to create a bright future for our young people.”

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